Conference Paper ‘Towards a Post-Immersive Manifesto’

I gave this paper at the TaPRA Interim Event: Immersive and Interactive Technologies and Live Performance, University of Cardiff, April 6. The paper concerns the post-immersive manifesto I am writing with ZU-UK Theatre and Digital Arts Company and TAG.

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Abstract
Immersive has become one of the most common but nebulous terms in the UK theatre scene over the past two decades. Promising a special or merely novel experience for audiences, the lexicon of immersion has entered many different social spheres. Shopping centres like Westfield (Stratford, East London) promise shoppers a leisure experience that transcends the boundaries of conventional retail. When used in the context of online activity (‘screen time’) immersion denotes disconnection from the real world. Immersion is now a byword for describing an escape from what can be considered productive activity by denuding the individual of their agency as moral and critically aware individuals. A post-immersive arts practice stands in opposition to the escapist imaginary of immersion by foregrounding the role the participant plays as an agent of social production. Social production describes the reflexive relationship between artist and participant in interactive art works, where both assume responsibility for constructing a narrative in virtual and physical spaces. This paper will show examples of art-works and experiments produced by collaborators ZU-UK and TAG over the past four years. We will propose a model of post-immersive audience participation by arguing that embodied and interactive technology in performance provides an architecture for artists and participants to play roles within scenarios that elide the real and the fictional. This mode of social production creates temporary communities whose aesthetic experience is defined by their relationality with diverse subjectivities which are already present within the performance and which manifest through social production ie what the participants bring with them (identity, politics, culture, bodies, etc.). We will discuss how post-immersive performance events can be scaled up and effective models of interdisciplinary collaboration.

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Following on from the annual conference at Aberystwyth and previous group events and conversations, the aim of the 2019 interim event is to explore different practices and modes of immersive and interactive technologies in live performance, as well as to investigate new narrative possibilities and audiences’ virtual experiences in live performance created by immersive technologies. As Kerry Francksen and Sophy Smith (2018) note, ‘[t]he use of virtual reality (VR) technologies has seen a significant resurgence in both industry-led and artistic communities in recent times. This re-emergence can be linked to the continuing growth and advancement in smart phone technologies (e.g. developments in accelerometers and gyrospic chips), as well as a significant interest within the games industry for developing a greater quality gaming experience.’ We want to explore this emergent theme and extend the 2018 TaPRA working group’s discussions on Empathy and Inclusiveness in Immersive Technologies to question: What new tools and spaces do immersive technologies offer to theatre and live performance? What opportunities and challenges do immersive technologies bring to the digital performer/performance-maker, from new forms of audience/participant interaction to new performance training methodologies, to new rehearsal methods and documentation strategies?